Ben Stokes lit up the Indian Premier League even before he had landed in India. In the February auction, he went for a staggering Rs 14.5 crore to Rising Pune Supergiant and became the highest-ever paid overseas player at the Twenty20 domestic tournament.
Any question marks about whether he justified that high a price were soon put to rest as Stokes blitzed his way through the tournament. With three player-of-the-match awards and a force with both bat and ball, the England all-rounder was almost a one-man army for Rising Pune Supergiant who did miss his abilities in the final where they lost by a run. Stokes had returned to England after the group stage to resume his duties for his national team.
Despite Kevin Pietersen criticising that arrangement, Stokes, in a conversation to The Guardian on Monday, said he was comfortable at having to miss the playoffs for the sake of the national team.
“Playing for England is always the main priority,” he said. “Before the tournament started, it was made clear that all of us, me, Woakesy [Chris Woakes] and Jos [Buttler], were available for the 14 group games and then, if either of the teams got through to the finals, which obviously Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune managed to do, we weren’t available for that.”
He added, “So all three teams were aware of that and we were aware of that as players as well, so that was always the thing going into it.”
As far as he was concerned, the whole furore about the bug bucks he was receiving was wiped under the carpet when the tournament started. “You judge yourself solely on how you perform on the pitch. That’s where all the pressure came on myself, in wanting to go out there and put in performances for the team I was playing for,” said the England all-rounder.
He also appreciated the aspect of having a continous period of time to work on his T20 skills: “Being able to work hard on those skills for six weeks was a really good thing to be able to do. Being able to work with specialist coaches in Twenty20 cricket, I think my bowling has gone up another level.”
Stokes especially enjoyed the time he spent with a player who, on the national stage, is a fierce opponent. Australian captain Steve Smith also skippered Pune and Stokes found the experience exciting.
“I remember doing a batting session with some power-hitting towards the end where the guy who I will be playing against in the Ashes in our winter was helping me, which is something that you would never be able to fathom when you are playing against each other,” said the all-rounder. “When you have got two guys who are going to play each other and want to be winning and have their own ways of going about it end up working together – IPL is probably the only place where you get that.”
Speaking about the Champions Trophy where a new-look England will be eyeing with cautious optimism, Stokes said, “We’ve earned the right to be the favourites. But we’re keeping our feet firmly on the ground and we know this is the competition with the best eight teams in the world and anyone can beat anyone.”